How to Get Your Child to Go to Therapy

You’ve done your research and found someone who you think would be a good fit for your child. But how do you tell them that they’re going to therapy? And how do you get a reluctant child to go?


Keep it simple. All they really need to know is that they’re going to the therapist’s office to play.

“If I’m consulting with parents on these issues, I also like to work with the child to best understand their skills and developmental level,” says psychologist Emily W. King. “I might have a parent say, ‘Mommy and Daddy talked to Dr. Emily to get more ideas about how to help with bedtime/sharing/sleeping by yourself. She also wants to know what these things are like for you, so you get to meet her soon. We will play together and you will get to know her.'”

Plus, depending on your child’s language and independence, it’s very likely that you’ll both be in the session, so you’ll be on hand to make them feel at ease.

Ages 5 to 10

Because your child is typically aware of your concern at this age, it’s a good way to start the conversation. During your chat, talk about working together to solve emotional or behavioral problems, and let your child know that you’ve already met with the therapist and you think they’ll like them too.

For example, a parent could say: You know how hard it is to feel calm during a test/you don’t like school/there’s a lot of fighting in our family/you’ve been very sad since Grandpa died? Dad and I need more ideas on how to help you, so we met someone who helps children and families, and we think you’ll really like them too.

“By presenting it this way, the child isn’t the identified patient or doesn’t feel stigmatized or responsible for any of the dysfunction in the family,” explains Dr. Laurie Zellinger, a New York psychologist. “And you create a system approach—the whole family system needs to be worked on.”

Tweens and Teens

Teens and tweens typically know what therapy is, but they need to decide that there’s a problem they want help solving. Without this piece, they’ll likely feel forced into going to therapy and appointments might not be effective or useful.

“I recommend that parents say, ‘We’re noticing that you don’t seem happy/are worried a lot/are having trouble sleeping,” she says. “Remember when you talked to the school counselor that time and you found it helpful? Dad and I think it would be helpful to talk to someone outside of school that is your person to confide in.'”

If Your Child Refuses to Go

“If your child refuses at first, keep talking,” Dr. Fred Zellinger recommends. “When the reason comes up at home, say, ‘maybe this is one of the things the therapist can help you with.’ Kids often think they’re going to therapy because they’re bad. It’s important they know it isn’t about being bad or good. It’s about working together.”

Suggesting a trial approach may also work, but if that doesn’t do the trick, you can go to see a therapist without your child. “Research shows that helping the parents, even if the child refuses to enter the room, is as effective as treating the child,” explains Katie Hurley, LCSW, author of No More Mean Girls. “If your child refuses to attend, try going in without your child a few times to uncover the root of the identified behavior and learn new tools to connect with your child in a positive way.”

They may come around once they see everything you’re learning and how you’re helping them.

Excerpted from “How to Get Your Child to Go to Therapy” in Parents magazine. Read the full article online.

Source: Parents magazine | How to Get Your Child to Go to Therapy, | © Copyright 2021 Meredith Corporation

A screening can help you determine if you or someone you care about should contact a mental health professional. CHC teletherapy services are available now.  Call or email our Care Managers at 650.688.3625 or to set up a free 30-minute consultation appointment.

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